Halloween is our favourite time of the year! It is when our daughter was born, and a time to start having cosy nights in, warming foods…and of course, enjoy all the fun Halloween activities which take place in our community. However, Halloween isn’t so easily accessible or loved by everyone, particularly children with additional needs, and allergies. With this in mind, we’ve created a simple guide on how to make your Halloween more inclusive and accessible for all! We’ve also added a few ideas (part two) on how you can prepare your child for the festivities.
Please feel free to mail us with your own ideas and, and we will share them with our community.
Allergies & Special Diets
Many children have allergies or have food issues; this means that traditional Halloween treats are not suitable. A great alternative is to provide non-food options. The US-based Teal Pumpkin Project is a fantastic resource and offers some great advice on alternatives to food-based treats here. Also, make sure that any foods you do offer are clearly labelled for possible allergens. If in doubt, ask the parent or caregiver for specifics. For us, we don’t expect others to provide our little one with party food or treats, and we are always more than happy to offer our own. We have been surprised on a few occasions though when parents have gone out of their way to make individual cakes and food. The first time this happened, I had to retreat to the bathroom for a brief cry because it was a lovely, unexpected way to include our daughter.
Communication is much more than the spoken word, and many children have communication problems and differences. Some children have limited speech, while others don’t speak at all. There is a multitude of reasons for these issues but having a basic understanding can go a long way. For example, our daughter is considered to be “nonverbal” (we prefer the term “nonspeaking”) so we use various forms of communication from sign-language to gestures, to vocalisations. She also uses her iPad and pictures. So, if you’re expecting her to say the words “Trick or Treat”, you will be left waiting for quite a wee while!
- Respect all forms of communication.
- Consider that a nonspeaking child isn’t rude by not saying “please” or “thank you.”
- Use gestures and pictures.
- Learn some basic sign-language, Makaton, or Baby Sign are great for preschool kids. For Swedish sign language, you could use Babytecken.
- Some children have trouble in social situations which may manifest as anxiety (see next section) or “unusual behaviours”. Behaviour, body language, and stimming are often considered to be a child’s way of communicating and regulating. Please be mindful of this and respect that each of us is unique in the way that we see and interact with our surroundings. Consider the idea of neurodiversity and embrace these differences rather than judge. Too often families are scared to take their neurodiverse (Autism, ADHD, etc.) children out in public for fear of criticism.
Anxiety is a massive issue for children of all ages, with or without the diagnosis of a co-occurring condition. It can present itself in many ways, but understanding and pre-empting any situations can be incredibly helpful. Some children may wander or run, and others may try to hide or not be able to participate at all.
Some things to consider:
- Don’t crowd or force a child to interact with you, give them plenty of personal space.
- A scary mask can be very frightening for some children, consider more colourful and friendly visuals instead
- There are a plethora of amazing decorations ideas out there, but some of the more complex, motorised ones can startle children and cause panic.
- Let children know what your doing, don’t scare them suddenly
- Speak with the children’s parents or caregivers to give a step by step guide to what you will be doing at an event as this helps to prepare the children.
- Consider transition times or offer a visual schedule such us First & Next
- Don’t laugh at or shame children for getting upset or scared as this only adds to their anxiety and panic. Be kind and comfort if appropriate. We all have worries and fears – us adults included -, and it feels awful when someone shames us for them. Remember how that feels.
Mobility and Motor Skills
If your child needs a wheelchair, or if you use a big buggy like a wheelchair (like us) then you’ll know only too well how tough it can be to access common places. We absolutely do NOT expect people to put temporary ramps into their homes or anything like that but knowing what access is like in advance is a must. Don’t be surprised if we ask how wide your doors are or if you have steps.
Some children may not be able to move independently at all and will, therefore, require an adult to help at all times. Some kids also have trouble with fine and gross motor skills so their bodies may move differently, or they may have issues reaching and grasping items.
What you can do:
- Don’t judge a child who appears to be grabbing at treats; they may be struggling with motor skills
- You could give out gifts outside your home if accessibility isn’t good inside
- Speak directly to the child in a wheelchair, not over them or to the parents; this happens all too often as people assume the child does not understand.
- Clear the driveway or path of any large obstacles and make sure it is well lit.
Many children have trouble processing the sensory world around them. They may or may not have been diagnosed with SPD, and the issue can have a profound impact on visual, auditory, taste, smell, touch, and interoception (the ability to feel what is happening inside the body). Although you cannot accommodate every child’s needs, there are some basic measures you can take to help prevent or alleviate sensory overload:
- Avoid using loud music, instruments, or sudden noises
- Avoid using strobe lights, try an alternative (our friends had a bubble machine at their recent wedding, and it went down an absolute storm with our daughter!)
- Some children do not like being touched or hugged, respect their autonomy and choice
- Some fabrics and textiles can cause children pain or irritation; this may be apparent in costume choice
- Consider hosting a “silent disco” instead of usual music and dancing
- If you have space, you could create a special “quiet, safe, sensory” space for children to retreat to. Tents are great for this!
- If an older child is wearing a nappy (diaper), please don’t make an issue of it, direct to a safe, clean space if changing is needed. Introception plays a considerable role in toileting.
- Emotional regulation can be incredibly tough for some kids, and some may have problems with impulse control, just be aware
- Above all else, be calm, and patient. Sensory overload can be a very distressing and painful experience for anyone going through it. The next section touches on the Tantrum or Meltdown questions and what you can do to help.
- Some children will use a chewy to help with the need to chew, or sensory seeking. Do not ask them to remove their chewy from their mouths.
- Fidget toys were also developed for a specific reason! To help children stay focused and release the need to fidget, Unfortunately, this turned into a trend resulting in many schools actually banning the use of them. Please don’t try to take a child’s fidget from them or insist that they share it with others.
Tantrum or Meltdown – What’s the Difference?
Fundamentally, a tantrum is a goal driven response and often occurs when a child can’t get what they want, and they are attempting to convince an adult to “give-in”. A meltdown, on the other hand, is a response to being overwhelmed, either through sensory overload, or emotionally for example, and is a way to establish balance and regulation. They will occur at any time, and instead of stopping at a certain age (like tantrums) meltdowns arise throughout life.
How to Help a Meltdown:
- Avoidance is critical so you could ask the parent or caregiver about known triggers and how they usually help their child if a meltdown occurs
- Never restrain unless there is a real risk of injury
- If possible, try to direct the child to a quieter, safe space
- Keep speech short and slow, too much information can escalate the issue
- Do not touch the child without permission
- Some children benefit from a firm “hug” and will actively seek this out
- Be sensitive and try not to make a fuss or reprimand the child
Party Planning – To Invite or Not to Invite?
Last but by no means least, we think we should highlight that even if our families may struggle with events like these, please DO invite our children along. If you’re worried or nervous, drop us a message and ask if there is anything you can do to help our child attend. We don’t expect you to stress or to go above and beyond for our children, and we are more than happy to help out. Simply being invited and knowing that you’re thinking about us means more than you could know. Most times, our kids are left out right from the start.
Preparing Children for Halloween
In a sense, we don’t need to prep that much as our little one actually enjoys the spooky and “darker side”. There was a school trip to see a play last year, and it involved the use of skeletons as props and other things which are generally considered to be scary. While some children had to leave, our little one was entranced and happy, and at points, laughing. She loves teeth, and sharks, and monsters. However, there are things which do cause anxiety such as strangers coming to the door and certain noises. Knowing what causes stress and fear is half the battle and we don’t force our little one to attend events or situations where we know she will be stressed. It doesn’t stop us from trying new things though, but we always have a contingency plan in place, or we remove her immediately if we see her struggling.
A few suggestions on how to prepare:
- Visit the area or place in advance
- Go over safety rules
- Make sure you know where all the exits and entrances of a venue are. Are they locked and where do they lead? Are they guarded? All this information is essential, particularly if your child wanders or runs when stressed.
- Do you need more than one adult to help?
- Check venues and communities for wheelchair accessibility
- Take photos or videos of landmarks, or people who may be hosting a party. These can be used in a social story (see next section)
- Try to explain the concept of Halloween and be as factual as possible.
- Point out the differences between “real” and “fictional” characters
- For children who may have sensory differences, try the costume in advance, or make a DIY version using textiles you know your child likes
- Also, there is absolutely no harm in contacting event organisers or venues to ask about their inclusion policies and what accommodations they can reasonably put in place. We do this EVERY time we go somewhere, and if nothing else, at least it starts a conversation about accessibility and inclusion.
- If your child has been invited to an event, don’t be afraid to help the organiser (usually another parent) prepare, or offer helpful suggestions.
- Make sure to pack a bag with your child’s favourite, comforting items, or ear defenders, snacks, and “chewies”. We NEVER go anywhere without at least the basics, and when we have forgotten them we’ve had to leave a place early or turn back mid-journey.
AAC and Social Stories
We also use Social Stories and an iPad app called Pictello. Social Stories can support learning and understanding of various situations, from personal hygiene to going on an aeroplane. There are also free, and downloadable printable examples out there.
We recently purchased this book which includes a CD full of stories which are easy to download and edit. It also teaches you how to create effective and safe stories. Well worth the investment!
We hope this list helps you to have a happy, inclusive, and safe Halloween! Feel free to get in touch if you have anything to add to our list!